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Logistics Carriers Should Envision an Image Enabled Supply Chain

At Smart Gladiator, we work continuously to improve our product. As part of that exercise, we recently decided to install a sensor in our product. Having finalized a product choice on the sensor, we ordered it from the vendor who was glad to send us the devices through UPS. We wanted to install, test, and deploy them to a customer as soon as possible.

We are a technology company located in the heart of Atlanta, within the Georgia Tech campus, part of this Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) that the state of Georgia supports. We work in a big building that house several companies like us. All of these companies go through a vetting process that verifies that they strive for innovation. Most are working to commercialize technology developed at the university by professions involved in cutting edge technology. Many dignitaries stop by our building and we get to participate in discussions with them.

At a round table meeting with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Mayor Kasim Reed at the ATDC.

At a round table meeting with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Mayor Kasim Reed at the ATDC.

Caption: At a round table meeting with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Mayor Kasim Reed at the ATDC

This location is famously called the Tech Square. In addition to small innovative companies, the areas home to innovation centers of much bigger conglomerates such as Home Depot, Coca Cola, Southern Company, and most recently NCR. I say all this to make it clear: I am not in the middle of nowhere. I am right in the heart of a major metropolitan area.

Despite that, I struggle to receive a shipment through UPS to our office. There is a clear protocol. If we are not in the office, the delivery person should leave the package on the third floor mailroom (one floor up from our offices). However, it often doesn't happen. Remember those sensors we ordered? The vendor overnighted these critical components to us and yet it was not delivered to our office nor to the mailroom. On that day, we stepped out of the office for an hour to take care of some business and missed the shipment. On our return, we were greeted with the familiar UPS notice on the door.

I checked with the administration folks in the building. They reported that, although other carrier services had delivered packages to the mailroom, that UPS had a reputation for being less than consistent in following the procedure. I called UPS and found that I had three options to get my delivery:

  • Pay an extra $7 to have the package left at a UPS Access Point location close to my office
  • Receive the delivery the next day
  • Pick it the package personally from customer services center about a 30 minutes drive from my office

I chose option #3. I crossed my fingers and hoped that it would be returned by the delivery to the center before it closed at 9pm.

UPS told me that they would call me with an update in an hour. After more than an hour, I called to check the status. They told me to wait another hour. At 6:30, I was no closer to knowing the fate of my package. I posted my dilemma on the UPS Facebook page and heard a similar story from another entrepreneur in the area. The UPS team monitoring the page also responded, but didn't solve the problem.

By 7:30, I start home to get dinner and when I walk in my door, I find an email saying that I can pick up the package in the morning since the center will be closed. I call UPS again—and they promise to call me in the morning. To make a long story a little shorter: I finally got to pick up my important package fro the distant customer service center at 1PM on the second day.

My experience begs the question: Why, with a world class company like UPS, do I have to go through so much complexity and misery just to receive a package? I understand what happens in warehouses and how shipments get routed. I know the technology that is available. I understand the complexities involved.

I also know UPS is a great company and have many friends who work there. I have heard stories where employees that started as UPS truck drivers have grown to become vice president. Winning and maintaining trust, reputation, and kudos from customers is very hard and UPS is one of the crown jewels of Atlanta, GA. I admire the organization and its leaders. I only hope that my team and I can build such a reputation in the long run.

Things happen and people make mistakes. Success is about turning adversity into opportunity. In that spirit, I find myself wondering what UPS could have done to turn my moment of misery into a stellar customer experience. From a technology standpoint, it's not a big deal to come up with a system that presents the delivery person with a photograph of the package being delivered and the person or location to which it should be delivered. In fact, our company is working with a third party logistics service provider on something similar.

We want to create a system where every delivery gets documented through pictures using a simple mobile app. Anybody can download this app in their smart phone, and push it to the cloud database along with some comments, order#, tracking# and other relevant details. It can even be tied to specific supply chain system and shared with internal or external partners. To get it done, though, logistics providers need to make end customer experience a top priority and think outside of the current system.

Have you dealt with this type of challenge in your supply chain? What types of tools would you like to see implemented? Do you think that creating an image-enabled supply chain could help? Let us know in the comments section below.

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